Culture, Capital and the Political Economy Gender Gap: Evidence from Meghalaya’s Matrilineal Tribes

Around the world, women are significantly underrepresented in politics, from participation to elected positions. A gender gap is also evident in policy preferences, with women and men expressing systematically different priorities about how states should raise and invest resources. Women are more likely than men to favor redistribution, social security, and insurance, for example, and less likely to be critical of taxation than men. Because participation is a conduit for policy change, women’s programmatic preferences are less likely to translate into government action when their political engagement is limited. Explaining why women’s and men’s participation and policy preferences diverge is thus crucial for remedying gender-related inequities and grasping fundamental dynamics of representation.

What explains the political economy gender gap? A new journal article from Rachel Brulé and Nikhar Gaikwad published in the Journal of Politics provides the first rigorous paired comparison of adjoining matrilineal and patrilineal communities to examine how differences in lineage norms predict variation in political participation and policy preferences. For their analysis, they conducted a large face-to-face survey of representative samples of men and women in both matrilineal and patrilineal communities. An innovative series of survey and behavioral experiments probed respondents’ patterns of political participation and policy preferences about taxation, redistribution, and intra-household bargaining. Brulé and Gaikwad also collected extensive ethnographic data via field research to adjudicate the potential mechanisms that may drive our results.

Overall, Brulé and Gaikwad illuminate how one set of cultural norms relevant across the developed and developing world—lineage—structures attitudes and behavior through their influence on intra-household decision-making. 

Read the Journal Article